Have you heard... - iTunes best kept secret - Click Here
MLGX 2017 - You Know Where the Partys At - Click Here
Roundtable - A Divisive Roundtable - Click Here
Review - Who's the Villain Now? - Click Here
Have you seen... - The Community Streams - Click Here
Review - Build It & They Will Come - Click Here
Review - Old School With A Modern Twist - Click Here
Have You Joined... - The Community - Click Here
Review - Wakey Wakey - Click Here
Review - X-Ray Knackers - Click Here

Being a part of Midlife Gamer could not be simpler.

Register and start contributing now!

Login

Destiny – A Retrospective

August 29th, 2017 by

Destiny_BoxArt_GenericAs many of us patiently wait for Destiny 2′s release, I thought it time to look back and cast a critical eye on the last three years of Bungie’s divisive juggernaut.

Destiny

Emboldened by greatly enjoying the alpha and beta, I took the Destiny release week off work. Preloaded and ready to go, when the clock struck midnight I delved straight into the campaign. What followed was a borderline obscene number of hours ploughed into the game over that week, where my three man team rattled through the available PvE content. As the last cutscene drew to a close, there was a nagging and unavoidable question; what the hell was all that about?

One of the most vehement criticisms of vanilla Destiny was the story. More to the point, it was the almost entire lack of it. Sure, there were a few cutscenes but the entire thing felt like it was stuck together, like a bodged repair of a broken vase.

As it turned out, there was a good reason for this. The Destiny we received in September 2014 was essentially 12 months of work, cobbled together by a desperate team that suffered innumerable problems, mostly self-inflicted, during development. Huge swathes of exposition were ejected for one reason or another, now confined to the cutting room floor. We were left with what Bungie managed to piece together using existing and hastily rewritten content, essentially with them delivering a MVP – a minimum viable product.

What also didn’t help public opinion was Peter Dinklage’s character, Ghost, who follows you on your journey and acted as both narrator and companion. Whilst his delivery was, to say the least, rather Marmite, the main issue was some of the lines he was asked to voice. I remember hearing “That wizard came from the moon!” for the first time and almost imploding with cringe. The writing issues hit every NPC too, the most infamous example being the Exo Stranger’s much maligned line – “I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain”, which really felt like a pretty solid summary of the entire plot.

On top of narrative issues, there were fundamental problems with the progression system. Upgrading armour and weapons required materials the could only be obtained by farming resource nodes on planets, which led to lost nights where you’d drive around in circles hunting for Spinmetal or Spirit Bloom, or whatever the game had deemed required. It was a long, tedious process, that absolutely no one in the their right mind enjoyed.

Of course, upgrading your equipment required actually getting new equipment in the first place, and this was yet another problem. The loot system in vanilla Destiny was a mess, utterly disrespectful of the time you put into the game. The nadir of this was the Loot Cave, an area in the Skywatch area of the Cosmodrome where enemies constantly and quickly respawned. Many Guardians found shooting at these combatants was a more effective way of getting loot drops than actually playing the game properly. It became commonplace upon entering Skywatch to find players lined up, endlessly taking potshots into cave, occasionally rushing forwards to collect their ill-gotten spoils.

loot-cave1

So, what was it that kept people coming back to Destiny in their droves? Fundamentally, it was lucky that the core gameplay loop was brilliant. Firing the vast array of weaponry felt impactful and satisfying, and doing so with friends made it all the sweeter. That last point was something I noticed in the comments following release; those playing in a group were enjoying themselves, those playing solo – often considerably – less so.

The second thing that hooked people in was the Vault Of Glass, arguably still the highpoint of Destiny and all its expansions. The Raid was a lengthy (at the time) trek through an underground area of Venus, requiring six sufficiently levelled players with tight coordination to beat. It was hard, exasperating, and utterly exhilarating, all at the same time. Some days it could leave you disheartened, other days gave you a genuine sense of accomplishment. I still remember the screaming, cheering, the incredible outpouring of emotion and pent up frustration from six blokes in a party when Atheon crumbled in front of us.

The downside to polishing off Vault Of Glass relatively early doors was a distinct feeling of having essentially ‘completed’ vanilla Destiny, with little else to do other than continually running Vault Of Glass. New content was needed.

destiny_age_of_triumph_vault_of_glass_heroic-1

The Dark Below

December 2014 saw the first Destiny expansion, The Dark Below, land on our consoles. In retrospect, it felt very much like the product of the mere nine weeks it was built in. It was light on story content with only 4 new missions and 2 new Strikes (only 1 if you were unfortunate enough to be on the wrong side of PlayStation content exclusivity), the PvP side saw 3 new maps added to rotation, plus a bunch of new weapons and armour.

The new Raid, Crota’s End, became stuff of legend for all the wrong reasons. Built more around balls-out action than Vault Of Glass, it was a broken mess, almost spectacularly so. Cheese was the order of the day as people used all manner of manipulation to defeat the Raid. The first section could be breezed through by jumping up a ledge and stopping enemies from spawning. The Bridge encounter saw all manner of methods to circumvent what you were supposed to do, to the point that even to this day many people who completed the Raid still don’t know how to legitimately beat this stage. Most incredible and abused of all was the discovery that Crota, the Raid’s final boss, could be easily defeated by simply temporarily stopping your internet connection, leaving him frozen to the spot. Despite many patches and attempts to fix Crota’s End, it’s still fairly glitchy even to this day, hence why it’s the Raid of choice for the coveted Flawless Raider trophy/achievement.

All in all, not a great start to Bungie’s post-launch content.

Crota.jpg.optimal

House Of Wolves

What, no Raid?

House Of Wolves was arguably the lowest point in Destiny so far. The absence of a new Raid infuriated much of the player base. In its place we had Prison Of Elders, essentially a Horde Mode, and it was the pits. Devoid of checkpoints, completing Challenge Of Elders was a slog and players would only bother even entering if the stars aligned and certain burn modifers made the whole thing less painful. Your writer here, a keen devotee of Destiny who rates it as one of his favourite games ever, only completed Challenge Of Elders once and had no intention of ever going back. It was that bad.

On a more positive note, it did feel like Bungie were starting to get a grip of storytelling. The six mission campaign was hardly meaty, it could be completed in a single evening, but it was the first time we felt some soul. The narration by Variks and Petra injected personality into the campaign, with Variks in particular lending a sarcastically comedic angle at times.

House Of Wolves also saw the Destiny’s first stab at a proper competitive multiplayer mode; the 3v3 Elimination mode Trials Of Osiris. The promise of top-tier loot pulled many in initially but came during a somewhat dire time of weapon balancing, meaning running the vastly overpowered Thorn handcannon was almost a necessity if you wanted to reach the promised land of the Lighthouse, a new social space on Mercury purely for the mode’s victors.

prison2

At this point, things aren’t looking great for Destiny. Despite many quality of life improvements over the first year via patches, it was still feeling remarkably light on content and had many issues in fundamental aspects of the game. Moreover, we’re now in a painful period of content drought. Clearly, something needed to change.

And it did.

The Taken King

Arriving five long months after House Of Wolves, The Taken King started a fairly remarkable turnaround of fortunes for Destiny. Helmed by Luke Smith, lead designer for Vault Of Glass, this large expansion was a much needed shot in the arm that not only expanded the original game, but in many ways entirely rebooted it.

The Taken King included something missing; a tangible story. I’d go as far as to say that the opening cinematic included more exposition than in the entire base game. Unlike the vanilla release, I can actually remember the whats and whys of The Taken King., essentially boiling down to Crota’s dad, Oryx, being livid that you offed his son.

destiny_the_taken_king_oryx

Not only that, the missions felt more varied. Gone was the ‘go here, press button, kill waves of enemies’ repetition of the original game. The opening mission, The Coming War, starts with you investigating a Cabal base which has come under onslaught from on unnamed foe, and culminates in a desperate dash to your spacecraft against a ticking timer, all the while enjoying a tonne of narration. There’s even a third person stealth section which, whilst not necessarily hitting the mark, showed Bungie were willing to try something new.

This was another area where The Taken King improved considerably over previous content. Whilst House Of Wolves had started to inject more narration, The Taken King had lashings of it, and especially from the Vanguard trio and Eris. Each of these characters felt like a distinct creation rather than the homogenous nothingness we had before. Zavala, voiced by the booming tones of Lance Reddick, is noble and serious, Nathan Fillion’s Cayde-6 injected humour and sarcasm, whilst Eris provided thickly laid on gloom.

Clayde-6_vanguard

The new destination, the Dreadnaught, also offered something new. Essentially a labyrinthian floating fortress, the location was packed full of hidden pathways and mysteries to uncover.

More mysteries were to be had with the introduction of the Quest system, essentially multi-stage missions which took time to complete. Whilst some were in the forefront and linked entirely to the overarching plot of The Taken King, others slowly unravelled over time, such as the quest to gain the Sleeper Simulant, a powerful exotic heavy weapon. Players suspected the gun was somewhere to be found after being uncovered by data miners, it wasn’t until Bungie flicked the switch to enable a specific starting mission was the quest unlocked, leading to a long chain of events involving both playing a range of activities and puzzle solving. Similar was to be had with the exotic pulse Rifle, No Time To Explain, a little nod to the fanbase. Each time one of these secrets were uncovered it led to a frantic explosion of activity and excitement, something needed to keep players engaged.

More controversial was the inclusion of microtransactions and the rationale behind it. Whilst initially never offering more than emotes, Eververse slowly started adding more cosmetic items, each requiring a loot box purchase and a random roll. At no point did it move towards pay to win, but many players still felt wronged by them. The reasoning Bungie gave was the creation of a new Live Team, whose job it was to add temporary events to Destiny in order to keep it fresh. Starting off on a high note with Sparrow Racing League, a racing mode that players had cried out for since day 1, then came multiplayer tweaks such as Crimson Days, essentially a doubles mode with a buff when your partner dies, and Festival Of The Lost, the purpose of which seemed to be solely to get players to buy loot boxes. Truth be told, aside from SRL, none of these were particularly memorable in any way and represents one of the very few missteps Bungie made around this period.

destiny_dreadnaught_hull_breach_by_wanizame-daflyvd

Prior to The Taken King, Destiny’s progression system was somewhat convoluted. At first you needed to rank up from 1-20 in a straightforward XP-based system, but after that it depended on your gear score being between 30 and 34, your total level being a reflection on those value. In short, it was a shitshow. It was replaced by a Light Level, where every piece of gear and every weapon was assigned a score, and then your overall score was an average of them all added up. Whilst initially sounding as perplexing as the previous system, it soon became clear it was a superior system than employed before.

Whilst loot was better at this point, it wasn’t until the following April update that things took a huge step forwards. In a major quality of life update, Bungie changed loot drops so that progression became much simpler and hugely quicker, removing the major criticism that it was still a bit of a grind to hit the level cap.

The Taken King’s Raid, King’s Fall, didn’t quite hit the same level as Vault Of Glass but it was nonetheless an enjoyable piece of complex content and discoverable mysteries, with each section being memorable. The initial journey over the disappearing Tombships was a delectable mix of hilarity and frustration, leading to more than one Guardian throwing toys out of the pram and demanding their teammates to carry them through to the next section. The Warpriest’s trial recycled the Totems from Crota’s End but ensured your team were well-versed in clear communication and movement. Warpriest and Golgoroth were DPS checks, forcing you to think about how to maximise a small damage window. Following that is the section that came to be known as the Wall of Dicks, a platforming area where jutting phallic objects did their best to thrust you in the abyss below. The Raid culminated with the fight against Oryx himself. As with previous Raids, all the aforementioned sections built up to this final encounter, but this one in particular reminds me of a finely rehearsed ballet, where the flow of movement is as crucial as the damage output.

If The Taken King reflects the level of quality we should come to expect from the mid game expansions, I’m excited to see what Destiny 2 will bring.

Rise Of Iron

Despite The Taken King initially being billed as the final update to the original Destiny, Bungie managed to squeeze another out in the form of Rise Of Iron, I suspect due to Destiny 2’s release being delayed by 12 months.

Whilst not quite as substantial as The Taken King, it did add a good swathe of extra content to Destiny, thanked partially to leaving behind the previous generation versions of the game. A new social space was introduced, plus a large new explorable destination on Earth known as the Plaguelands, a mixture of entirely new areas and some remodelled Cosmodrome locales.

destiny-plaguelands

It doesn’t hit the same levels as The Taken King, but Rise Of Iron again delivered substantially better story than seen in the original game, centreing around an infection spreading through the Plaguelands and the fightback led by the majestic Lord Saladin. The culmination is particularly memorable, especially the surprisingly harrowing final battle with the reanimated corpses of Guardians who sacrificed themselves. The highlights though are found the the Quests, such as reforging the infamous Gjallarhorn, showing Bungie are happy to give knowing nods to the player base.

Wrath Of The Machine, the DLC’s Raid, was a superb finale. Benefitting from leaving limitations of the previous generation behind, the set pieces felt larger than many that came before. Particular mention should go to the Siege Engine section, a frantic rush across the Wall that’s the first thing you see in Destiny, with a looming Mad Max-esque contraption of death coming towards you. Taking notes from King’s Fall, there’s also a particularly well-devised hidden quest to uncover.

rise-of-iron-raid-700x389.jpg.optimal

You’d be hard pressed to say Destiny was an undoubted success story. Indeed, throughout the three years there’s been some substantial troughs, times where you questioned if Bungie had bitten off more than they could chew. That said, there has been substantial improvement, seen especially from The Taken King onwards, that makes you think they finally learnt how to manage such a behemoth and in recent interviews there’s a sense of quiet confidence that seemed missing on the run up to the original game’s release. I’m looking forward to Destiny 2’s release with fervent excitement, desperate to see what they have in store for us.

Eyes up, Guardian.

 

Tags: , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Destiny – A Retrospective”
  1. avatar Adamski UK says:

    What a superb summary of what is undoubtedly a game that will remain historic.
    I started along with everyone else, but limited broadband and time meant I missed out on all the extra subsequent content…but your retrospective has given me a new appreciation for the game.
    Thanks Munkimatt, really enjoyed that.

  2. avatar Schoey says:

    Well summed up. As the game I have sunk way to many hours into I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. It really came to life when I eventually hooked up with a group and started raiding on a regular basis, the social aspect was great and from being initially carried/sherped through to helping out other new players and guiding them through was rewarding. The lighthouse however was a place I was never going to visit

Leave a Reply








subscribe to our rss
 

Background -> Godd Todd 2017

Midlife Gamer - Computer Games Reviews - Content By Si Stevens & Digi

Web Master originaljohn in association with Dev Phase